What’s Cooking?

Howard Fishman on Radiohole’s Now Serving

Catherine McRae in Radiohole's NOW SERVING. All photos: Maria Baranova.

GOING TO THE THEATER can be a lot like going to a party. When good, similar pleasures are on offer: diversion, excitement, even uplift. For some fixed amount of time, we forget about the drab minutia of our daily lives. We can feel that we are part of a community, though we know it’s only a temporary one: we’re unlikely to ever see the strangers in the room again. When bad, both a performance and a party can make us desperate to leave, to escape the painful phoniness, the noise, the shouting, the bad behavior, and the palpable feeling of being trapped.

Sometimes (actually, never) something gets created that is both good theater and a good party. That thing is Radiohole’s Now Serving at the Collapsable Hole in the West Village. The show is a smart, grotesque, ecstatic collage of food, film, music, dialogue, poetry, analog special effects, and at least one man insouciantly wearing a giant frog head, like some detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights come to life. It’s a riot of anarchic strangeness, an appropriately surreal response to the insanity that is today’s cultural and political status quo.

At the outset of Now Serving, some members of the audience are seated at either side of a long table onstage, having paid for the privilege of doing so. They remain there for the duration, becoming a part of the show. Everyone else observes from seats in a gallery above the stage, though a feeling of inclusion permeates. The fourth wall is broken early and often, which gives us permission to relax and have a good time—and so we do.

Eric Dyer, in frog mask.

THE WORLD OUTSIDE IS GRAY AND DRAB AND GRIM, the program reads. FUCKHEADS RULE. IT SUCKS. And for about seventy-five glorious minutes, Radiohole freaks out, manifesting the feeling that many of us have every day: that we have somehow, against our will, been dropped into an alternate reality where absolutely nothing makes sense. The show has no plot, per se. A multi-course dinner is served in absurd ways: soup comes out on a hand-cranked conveyor belt; salad is blown onto plates by first tossing it up in front of a large electric fan. In between, the performers hold forth, offering pugnacious, salty commentary about proper manners and etiquette as the proceedings becoming increasingly messy, funny, and unhinged. The world may be upside down out there, they seem to say, but you’re safe in here. It’s making us crazy too. Let’s all be crazy together.

The performers take turns manipulating the various devices, levers, and Rube Goldberg machines they’ve created for the show. Nothing is hidden from view. As we watch them enacting various practical tasks (operating the conveyor belt, serving wine from IV bags) and creating bizarre effects and tableaux, there is a sense of glimpsing the inner mechanisms of a dream—how it works, the way it functions—a thrilling transparency that makes what this company does so refreshing. “We’re trying to create something that’s live and in your face and real,” co-founder Erin Douglass explained to me.

Maggie Hoffman.

Radiohole—founded by Douglass and her collaborators Maggie Hoffman, Eric Dyer, and Scott Halvorsen—has been presenting these kinds of experiences, and presenting them with conviction, for two decades. Long before terms like “devised” or “immersive theater” became trendy, there was Radiohole, wilding out. They are not the cool kids who rule the cafeteria; they are not the intimidating popular crowd who know how to play the game, who seem to effortlessly win all the cash and prizes. They’re the freaks, the outcasts, the weirdos—the ones who don’t fit in and don’t even want to.

Now Serving began to take shape in early 2017, after Trump took office. “We wanted to do something nice for ourselves and nice for our audiences,” Hoffman told me. Nice, for these ladies, means creating theater fueled by the energy of punk rock. There is nothing precious about what Radiohole is up to. Tongues are not in cheeks, agendas are not pursued. They just want to do it their way, to have a blast, and to take us along for the ride. Their work is not for the faint of heart, but these days, what is?

Radiohole’s Now Serving runs through November 16 at The Collapsible Hole in New York City.